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False Bombardier Beetle

False Bombardier Beetle

As its name suggests, the False Bombardier Beetle closely mimics the physical appearance of its relative, the Bombardier Beetle, an insect that produces an explosive spray of noxious chemicals when threatened. Both species belong to the same family of ground beetles native to North America, but unlike its cousin, the False Bombardier Beetle has a much weaker chemical spray. These beetles sometimes enter homes, and it’s important to know the difference between the two species, how to identify them, and how to get rid of them if they have infested your house.

False Bombardier Beetle Facts

The False Bombardier Beetle, Galerita bicolor, belongs to the Carabidae family of beetles which consists of more than 40,000 known species worldwide.

The Carabidae family is one of the largest families of insects and includes many species of ground beetles. Because of their diversity, Carabidae beetles are common throughout most of the world.

Scientific Name and Classification

In North America, False Bombardier Beetles are found in the South from the Atlantic coast to California but are most commonly found on the East Coast. In their southern range, they are active all year round, but in the north, they often go dormant during colder months. Because they dislike cold weather, they avoid the far north altogether. They are infrequently found in homes when winter arrives, specifically basements, as it is their nature to seek shelter from cold weather. They are normally found in woodland areas, and in their natural habitat, they often live in or near rotting timber or brush piles. Turning over old logs will often reveal these beetles since they are nocturnal and like to hide during the day, preferring to come out only at night.

They lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves, and go through a juvenile or larval stage during which they have a long, segmented body and two long bristles extending from their rear, making them look more like an earwig or a silverfish than a beetle.

As an adult, the False Bombardier Beetle has a dark brown or black body and bright orange legs and thorax. This striking color scheme was the reason for this bug’s scientific name, Galerita bicolor. There are several closely related Carabidae species that can be confused with Galerita bicolor, including the Galerita janus which is nearly identical but which prefers more mountainous areas, while bicolor sticks to lowlands and is more common near residential areas.

They are relatively long-lived carnivorous beetles, are equipped with large jaws, and can move quickly. They feed on other insect species, targeting prey such as caterpillars. These beetles do have wings, but rarely if ever fly. Because they prey upon other insects, including the larvae of several pest species of moths, they are generally considered to be beneficial insects.

Bombardier Beetle vs. False Bombardier Beetle

The differences between true and False Bombardier Beetles are subtle. Both have large, oblong abdomens, long legs, and prominent antennae. Both have two-tone coloring and are very similar in their overall shape and habits. When compared side by side, the False Bombardier Beetle is about twice the size of its relative, but the best way to tell the difference between the two species is by looking at the head. Commonly, False Bombardier Beetles have a solid black head, while their more noxious cousins have a bright orange head.

True Bombardier Beetles are best known for their unique defense mechanism. When threatened, they shoot two chemicals at high velocity from their abdomen with a series of audible ‘pops’. The chemicals, hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide, are housed in separate glands but are mixed with oxidative enzymes when expelled. The spray is not only pungently unpleasant, it can reach temperatures of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees centigrade).

Although the False Bombardier Beetle lacks the strong chemical repellant of their relative, the are able to spray a milder chemical, formic acid. Formic acid is the same chemical given off by certain ant species and can cause a mild irritating sensation on exposed skin. Both species of beetle developed this defense mechanisim to ward off animals who eat beetles such as birds, reptiles, and amphibians. It is thought that the bright orange coloration on their bodies, like the bright coloration of many noxious or toxic species, is used as a warning to would-be predators.

Do False Bombardier Beetles bite?

Because they are predators, False Bombardier Beetles are equipped with strong pincers, but they do not have a venomous bite. Since they primarily rely on their other defensive mechanisms, these beetles do not commonly bite humans but may pinch if handled. If you find a False Bombardier Beetle in your home, it’s best not to handle it directly due to its noxious spray and the possibility that it may pinch, but it’s not likely to get an allergic reaction like a Carpet Beetle Allergy. Instead, use a jar, glass, or another object to pick up the insect if you plan on removing it from your home or if you need to positively identify it.

How to get rid of False Bombardier Beetle

Insects frequently find their way into our homes, and False Bombardier Beetles will sometimes enter a home by accident. If only one or two beetles appear in your home, you can simply physically remove them or vacuum them up.

To prevent them from entering your home, there are several actions you can take to keep these bugs from entering your home.

False Bombardier Beetle in the House

Like many insects, they are drawn to light and may enter a house if a porch light is left on near a window, door, or another entryway such as a crawl space. Turning off exterior lights at night or positioning them away from openings that are vulnerable to invasion is a suitable short-term solution, and can prevent insects from gathering near entryways. Long-term, preventing these bugs from entering your house can be as simple as properly sealing windows and doors and patching cracks or other holes near the ground around the foundation of your house.

If you have a wood pile near your exterior wall, or if you have landscaped areas with wood chips or wood mulch abutting the foundation, these can entice beetles to nest near your home. If you have a large number of False Bombardier Beetles appear inside your house, consider relocating your woodpile, or removing wood mulch from the ground around your exterior walls.

If more extreme measures are required, you can use a variety of insect traps and insecticides. Sticky traps, such as those sold to trap roaches, can be used effectively against False Bombardier Beetles. In the most extreme cases, a variety of insecticides can be sprayed around the foundation of your house.

Signs of False Bombardier Beetle Infestation

It is possible to find False Bombardier Beetles in your home or garden if you have conditions around your property that these woodland bugs find appealing. Since they prefer rotting or decomposed wood and plentiful prey, homes with damp rot in the walls or floor may have these insects living and breeding in the building itself. However, they generally prefer their natural woodland habitat and are not usually common visitors in houses. If you are seeing large numbers of black and red insects, you may be seeing one of the several other insect species that are well known for overwintering in homes.

Boxelder bugs have an elongated shape that somewhat resembles the False Bombardier Beetle, and like them, the Boxelder bug will secrete a noxious smelling chemical when disturbed. The two species also share a similar black and orange coloration, though the Boxelder bug has black legs and a red ‘X’ on its back. During cooler months, Boxelder bugs are well known for taking shelter in homes, and individual adults will often come together and aggregate into large groups. They often enter walls and attics or will shelter under a home’s siding to escape bad weather.

Kissing bugs are another frequent visitor in homes, and share a similar body structure to False Bombardier Beetles and Boxelder bugs. These dark brown and reddish-orange bugs are well known for feeding on humans and other animals. These blood-sucking insects are easily differentiated from the others as they have spots or striped markings on the sides of their bodies. They prefer living in homes that have bird’s nests or rodent burrows, and in the Southwest are linked to packrat infestations.

If the insects you see are indeed False Bombardier Beetles, prevention strategies such as sealing windows and doors or other entryways into the home will likely prevent future infestation. Remember that, as predators, False Bombardier Beetles may be attracted to other unseen insect pest populations living in your home. However, if you have seen large numbers of black and orange insects in your house, it is worthwhile to consult with an expert who can positively identify which species is present and who can advise you as to the best methods of removing the insects from your home.

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